The Evolution of the Facebook Profile

Facebook held a keynote at their f8 conference yesterday, demonstrating a bunch of new stuff, most importantly Timeline, the new face for profiles. Timeline is changing Facebook’s approach to user-centric pages drastically. It’s concentrating on showing a view of a person’s life, as shared through Facebook and a bunch of associated apps. I’ve been playing with the developer release of Timeline since it was announced, and have got to say, I love it!

The design changes Facebook is currently undergoing are fantastic, and look great on the site, but we shouldn’t forget the humble, dorm-based beginnings of the world’s largest social network. As the company has grown with more and more (and more and more and more) members, the design has seen many refinements. We’re going to have a look at it’s design timeline today, to get a glimpse of where it started and where it’s headed, at least for now.

2005 and thefacebook

The original Facebook design, back when it was called thefacebook.

What you see above is the first profile design for Facebook, back when it still had the three-letter word in front of it. This was back in the day that Facebook required you to be in a specific network, such as a school. The design was described during Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg as “clean and simple” and without any likeliness to the frivolities of Disneyland.

This is Facebook’s in it’s simplest form and fairly straightforward. Information wasn’t powered by apps, nor split into tabs, it was just there.

2006 and The Mini Feed

Facebook in 2006.

In 2006, Mark Zuckerberg and Co published a drastic change to Facebook’s design. This design is probably the earliest form of the design we have today, with the now ubiquitous white-on-blue top bar, the different sections on the page and the introduction of a personal feed.

The 2006 redesign actually had a lot of the same uproar we get filling our feeds when there’s a current-day redesign of Facebook, with users reacting to the new design badly until they finally adapted to the change. However, this was the first break from the prosaic design of 2005 which has effectively remained in the same form up until Thursday.

2008 and The New Facebook

Facebook's redesign around tabs in 2008.

I certainly remember “The New Facebook” in 2008, the one you had to visit to access it until it was rolled out as default. Although there were some minor design tweaks since 2006, the same basic design still existed with the addition of tabs to access widgets created by Facebook apps.

The New Facebook was dominated by the feed, showing that Facebook was edging away from having a “profile” and instead having a stream. The feed, showing a user’s recent updates and interaction, took up most the page whereas the little profile elements became smaller and put in the sidebar.

2010 and The Cleanup

Facebook's big "cleanup" in 2010.

I see what Facebook did in 2010 as a “cleanup”. The main style of the 2008 design (although it received some welcome refinements since then) remained in tact, but it was “cleaned up” quite a bit with some new elements that made the whole site look that little bit more elegant.

Perhaps the biggest addition was the photo bar, showing Facebook’s commitment towards photo sharing. Just like the growing dominance of a user’s feed, photos were starting to make their way from being hidden away in a tab to being right at the top of a profile, prominent on the page.

2011 and Timeline


Perhaps the biggest ever change to Facebook is yet to come: Timeline. Timeline is what all profiles will eventually be migrated to and it’s the design I’ve been playing about for only a few hours prior to writing this article.

Timeline is meant to be a timeline of your life. Your profile updates, photos, polls and everything else are plotted on a long timeline that now also hosts “life events” such as breaking a bone or moving home.

Facebook life events being added in Timeline.

I’ve mentioned when we looked back at the old designs the increasing dominance of two things on Facebook profiles: a feed and photos. Each of these are incredibly important in Timeline. The feed has morphed and pretty much taken over the entire page, now sorted in a timeline, and photos have pretty much taken over the page. However, it’s very evident that profiles are now meant to be a personal website, rather than just a feed with a photo on it. Like some of the apps we rounded up here, Facebook is trying to contain your entire life on one page to point people to. All your Facebook content will be there, in addition to apps detailing everything from your music-listening to your movie-watching habits and history.

The aim of Timeline is to be the place you point people to. You don’t send them to your personal site, you send them to your life that’s perfectly detailed on Facebook. And with a fantastic, refined design, Timeline is perhaps the biggest, best, and most important change to Facebook ever.

Have you used Timeline? If not, are you excited to get your chance? Or do you feel like revolting already over all of the other recent changes in Facebook? Share your thoughts in the comments.